- The U.S. Center for SafeSport leveled a lifetime ban against Olympic figure skating coach Richard Callaghan on Wednesday after a former skater accused Callaghan of sexually molesting him beginning at age 14.
- Callaghan was suspended from the Olympics in 2018 for nearly 20 years following an older allegation of sexual misconduct.
- The allegations against Callaghan have stoked comparisons to USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and skater John Coughlin, prompting questions about how Olympic-linked organizations deal with sexual misconduct allegations.
Banned from the Olympics
The U.S. Center for Safesport banned famed Olympics figure skating coach Richard Callaghan for life on Wednesday over accusations of sexual molestation.
The organization made the decision after one of Callaghan’s former students filed a lawsuit claiming that Callaghan sexually molested him when he was 14-years-old.
U.S. Figure Skating then followed suit and banned Callaghan from any kind of skating-related activity in the U.S.
Callaghan, 73, is most known for training skaters Tara Lipinski and Todd Eldredge. Notably, Callaghan oversaw Lipinski’s training when she won the gold medal in ladies’ singles figure skating during the 1998 Nagano Olympics. He also oversaw Eldredge’s six U.S. national championship titles, as well as a world championship title.
The allegations were brought by former skater Adam Schmidt, who is also suing U.S. Figure Skating for inaction related to previous complaints made before his alleged molestations. The lawsuit alleges Callaghan molested Schmidt multiple times between 1999 and 2001.
“Today’s announcement is a major victory for all who’ve suffered abuses by the former legend of figure skating, Mr. Callaghan,” Schmidt told ABC News. “Now he will forever be known as the predator who delivered medals to a corrupt organization who accepted them in exchange for the safety and protection of children. US Figure Skating created that culture of abuse that lasted decades and today is the first of many victories to come in reversing that. USFS is officially on notice.”
The ban comes after SafeSport suspended Callaghan from Olympic activity for nearly 20 years after former student Craig Maurizi filed a second misconduct complaint against him in January 2018.
Callaghan has denied the allegations and was first suspended in March 2018, but he will not be able to appeal the permanent ban. According to Callaghan’s attorney, he is “subject to a lifetime ban without due process.”
In 1999, Maurizi filed his first complaint against the skating coach. The allegation, filed to U.S. Figure Skating, details the nature of Maurizi’s relationship with Callaghan, dating back to 1976 when he first began taking lessons from him at the age of 13.
Two years later, Maurizi said Callaghan began acting sexually inappropriate around him, and Maurizi said when he turned 18, Callaghan initiated a sexual relationship. That relationship allegedly continued in an on-again-off-again fashion until 1997.
“At the time, I thought the sex was consensual,” Maurizi told the New York Times in 1999. “Now, when I look back, I don’t think it was consensual. I don’t care how old a student is, whether it’s a boy or a girl, a coach should never have sex with a student. The coach is the person the athlete looks up to for leadership and to be a role model. I don’t think coaches understand the influence they can exert over students. People need to be more aware of this.”
The claims were later dismissed by U.S. Figure Skating and the Professional Skater’s Association because they had been filed more than 60 days from when the alleged abuse occurred.
Within the time-frame of Callaghan and Maurizi’s relationship, The New York Times reported at least five other sexual misconduct claims dating back to the 1980s. The claims range from inappropriate sexual comments to unwarranted sexual advances such as Callaghan exposing himself in a hotel.
“I feel finally vindicated,” Maurizi told the New York Times following Callaghan’s ban this week. “This guy’s a monster. This man has ruined the lives and careers of many people. I believe he should be punished to whatever extent is possible.”
Olympic Organizations’ Handling of Allegations
The allegations against Callaghan are the latest in a series of sexual misconduct allegations against people connected to Olympic athletes.
In 2015, USA Gymnastics broke ties with sports doctor Larry Nassar, and the following year, one of his patients filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse. In all, more than 250 women and one man accused Nassar of sexual abuse, many of his patients being underage at the times of their assault.
Nassar pleaded guilty in three different trials, admitting to the molestation of 10 accusers. The 56-year-old is now serving a federal conviction of 60 years and a state conviction of 40 to 175 to years.
In December, U.S. Figure Skating issued a restriction notice to figure skater John Coughlin in relation to unspecified allegations. On January 17, U.S. Figure Skating suspended him, and the following day, he committed suicide.
Since his death, more women have stepped forward, including bronze medalist Ashley Wagner and his former skating partner Bridget Namiotka.
SafeSport later released a statement saying it had uncovered “a culture in figure skating that allowed grooming and abuse to go unchecked for too long.”
This month, U.S. Figure Skating also released a statement saying the organization does not tolerate sex crimes.
“Recent news reports regarding allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct in our sport have been heartbreaking,” the statement reads. “We support all survivors, and we encourage all victims of abuse to come forward and report it to law enforcement and the U.S. Center for SafeSport or U.S. Figure Skating.”
Many, however, have criticized organizations connected to the Olympics, claiming they have been slow to act in situations involving sexual abuse.
“This should have been done in the ’90s when USFS first knew,” Schmidt’s attorney John Manly told USA Today. “It’s good news but small comfort to those Callaghan hurt. Clearly this move is in response to the horrible press USFS received in response to Adam Schmidt’s filing. You shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to protect kids from child molesters in Olympic sports.”
Manly argued that because U.S. Figure Skating did not act in 1999 when it received Maurizi’s first complaint, it enabled Callaghan to continue coaching, thus leading to Schmidt’s alleged molestations.
U.S. Figure Skating has defended itself, saying that following Maurizi’s original complaint, it examined its procedures into reporting cases of abuse and updated misconduct policy in May 2000.
Amazon Backs GOP Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Effort to Ramp Up Lobbying
The proposal is the first Republican-sponsored marijuana bill Amazon has backed since the company first began lobbying for legalization last summer.
Amazon Endorses States Reform Act
Amazon announced Tuesday that it is endorsing a Republican-backed proposal to legalize marijuana.
The move comes as the e-commerce giant has ramped up its efforts to legalize cannabis on the federal level since it came out in support of the idea last summer. Amazon argues that the move would remove hiring barriers — which disproportionately impact people of color — and, in turn, could increase the company’s application pool and boost employee retention.
The company has previously backed similar proposals by forward by Democrats, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time Amazon has put its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill aimed at addressing the issue.
The legislation, called the States Reform Act, was authored by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Among other measures, it would remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance, allow states to create their own laws, impose an excise tax, and regulate the drug in a similar fashion to alcohol.
While Mace’s bill is fundamentally very similar to others put forth by Democrats, by proposing it herself, the Republican hopes to rally other members of her party around the idea that legalization is pro-business, pro-state’s rights, and anti-big government.
The measure has already received support from the highly influential conservative group, American’s for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch brothers.
Mace and Amazon have painted the company’s endorsement as a game-changer for garnering more support — both from other large corporations and politicians on either side of the aisle. Mace specifically told reporters she believes Amazon’s decision will push other companies to do the same. If more major corporations like Amazon back the effort, other Republicans may be more persuaded to jump on board.
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, who said in an interview with The Washington Post that the company was “particularly excited by Congresswoman Mace’s bill” because “it shows that there’s bipartisan support for this issue.”
Huseman also emphasized that, as part of its decision to back her bill, Amazon will use its powerful influence in Washington to try and drum up bipartisan support.
“We are talking with members of both parties, including Republicans, about why we think this is the right thing to do, especially from the standpoint of a major employer and what this means for our business and our employees and broadening the employee base,” he continued.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (Marijuana Moment)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.